Mumbai, India, 28 November 2012 – Early morning fog delayed His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s flight from Bangalore to Mumbai this morning, but on arrival in India’s bustling commercial capital the weather was clear and warm. A short drive brought him to his hotel, where he was welcomed by the proprietor Capt. Krishnan Nair and other well-wishers.
After lunch His Holiness was invited to attend celebrations of World Compassion Day to mark the launch in India of the Humane Society International (HSI), the international branch of the Humane Society of United States (HSUS), an animal welfare organisation. In a private meeting beforehand with organizers and special guests he was asked what role he thought religion played in fostering the animal welfare. His reply was that a large number of the world’s 7 billion population don’t have much religious belief, and many of those who say they do behave as if they don’t. He said that what is important is that if you choose to follow a spiritual path, you should do so sincerely.
“Now, with regard to animals, they not only have life, but feelings of pleasure and pain too. We should treat their lives with respect, which we Tibetans are accustomed to do.”
He told the story of a former Tibetan official who migrated to the USA where he and his wife had jobs in a university kitchen. When they were cleaning vegetables, they made a point of setting aside any worms or insects they found, keeping them in a jar until the end of their working day, when they would take them outside to some safe place. The former official told His Holiness that fellow workers asked what they were doing and when they heard their explanation that they were protecting the worms and insects they found dismissed it as a waste of time. However, in due course they noticed that many of them had begun to follow the practice themselves.
His Holiness also spoke of his own sadness when driving from Dharamsala where he lives to Pathankot or Jammu and seeing the pitiful condition of chickens caged outside restaurants. With no freedom of movement, exposed to the extremes of the hot and cold seasons, they are completely helpless, treated like vegetables with no regard for their life or feelings. He remarked that in Tibetan culture there is a strong sense that if you can show concern for small creatures like insects and birds, you are more likely to be properly respectful and caring about your fellow human beings.
Joining the World Compassion Day 2012 gathering Mr Pritish Nandy welcomed His Holiness to the platform. He introduced President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, veteran Bollywood actor, Anil Kapoor and celebrated writer Chetan Bhagat.
In his remarks, Anil Kapoor said that we hear about impending food shortages and water shortages, but what is most significant is our general shortage of compassion. Wayne Pacelle followed this up by observing that the closest relationship many people in the world have with animals is when they eat them. However, he pointed out that in India on average there is only 3.5 kgs of meat eaten per person per year, whereas in the US and France the average is closer to 100 kgs of meat per person per year. He concluded that the seeds for better treatment of animals in India already exist, but need to be nurtured and encouraged.
When it came to His Holiness’s talk, he began in his customary way.
“Brothers and sisters, I am very happy to be able to participate in this meeting to encourage compassion and the greater protection of animals. My friend and scientist, the late Francisco Varela and I had long discussions about the definition of what is a sentient being. We concluded that it means a being that can move from one place to another of its own accord, which includes everything from amoebas to the animals we see around us. Sunflowers, for example, may turn towards the sun, but they do so due to a chemical reaction rather than of their own accord.”
He said that regarding our diet, it is better to be vegetarian, but confessed that despite encouraging others to do so, he found himself unable to keep it up for health reasons. He recalled strictly embracing vegetarianism in 1965 in Kerala after seeing a chicken killed by the cook. He kept it up for 20 months until he fell quite seriously ill with jaundice, at which when his doctors, Tibetan, allopathic and ayurvedic advised him to partly resume his non-vegetarian diet to restore and maintain his health. On the other hand, he mentioned that while he was still in Tibet he had decreed that all official banquets and functions should offer only vegetarian food and today in the Tibetan settlements in India the majority of monastic kitchens are entirely vegetarian. He also took the opportunity to clarify that while Chinese monks and nuns tend to be strictly vegetarian, those in Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka tend to be neither vegetarian nor non-vegetarian. This is because Buddhist monks who depend on alms for their living have no right to choose what kind of food they accept; they receive in silence whatever they are offered.
He mentioned that in Tibet, nomadic families with little other source of food would occasionally slaughter one of their animals, but did so in the full knowledge that they were taking life and making prayers for the animal’s good rebirth. Meanwhile, he was recently surprised to learn in Japan that people indulge in fishing for sport. And although the fish caught are often released, it is not before their mouths have been cruelly torn by the hook.
Turning to what he calls his main topic, His Holiness said,
“The ultimate source of a happy life is warm-heartedness. This means extending to others the kind of concern we have for ourselves. On a simple level we find that if we have a compassionate heart we naturally have more friends. And scientists today are discovering that while anger and hatred eat into our immune system, warm-heartedness and compassion are good for our health. Indeed one scientist I recently met in New York has found evidence that people who use the word ‘I’ a lot in their conversation are more susceptible to heart attacks.”
He reiterated that whether he’s addressing one or two people or 100,000 he looks at whoever he’s speaking to with the thought, “We are the same. I want to live a happy life just as you do.” The moment he begins to think of himself as a Buddhist, a Tibetan, or as the Dalai Lama, it begins to create a distance between him and others. All of us are born from a mother’s womb and nurtured by her love and affection; we human beings share the same origin.
“This is the basis on which we develop concern for others, because they are just like us. And once we’ve done that it’s easy to extend our concern towards animals and other forms of living beings.”
Chetan Bhagat was called upon to moderate questions to His Holiness. Meanwhile, reputed artist Paresh Maity put finishing touches to a six foot square painting of His Holiness that the organisers hope later to auction. Chetan Bhagat began with a question of his own. “Many of our problems involve the abuse of power. How can we change the abuse of power in India?” His Holiness replied,
“Through education. We have to lead people to see that concern for others is actually in their own interest.”
A practising vet asked his views about putting sick and suffering animals to sleep, as she is often asked to do. He told her that although this technically entails the taking of life, where there is real suffering and no hope of recovery, it can be beneficial. However, it depends on the case in hand; this is not something it is easy to generalize about.
Mumbai Police Chief, Satyapal Singh, made the suggestion that to be truly compassionate you must believe in a higher power, believe in the oneness of humanity, accept the consequences of your actions and be vegetarian.
Before leaving the stage, His Holiness signed Paresh Maity’s painting. In his final advice he said,
“Implementation of compassion must be voluntary, so you must first be convinced about it. This is where our intelligence need to be involved. And if we want compassion to be more effective in the world, we need to train our children, the future generation, to be more compassionate.”
Meeting the press separately, His Holiness was asked his views of the new Chinese leadership. He replied that totalitarianism is in decline. The new leadership must follow the world trend towards democracy and the rule of law, but whether it will is too early to predict.
“Let’s wait and see. The new leaders may personally be good people, but the system they function in is tough.”
Asked how long he can remain compassionate towards the Chinese he answered,
“Until I die; anger is not an effective strategy.”
Back at his hotel, Capt. Nair invited His Holiness to speak to his staff and a gathering of Tibetans. In answer to Capt. Nair’s suggestion that his success was due to His Holiness’s blessings, His Holiness retorted that it was due instead to his own tireless effort. He said that as a Buddhist he believed that your motivation is all important. If your motivation is good, collaboration will naturally occur and you will meet with success. Smiling at the Captain who is 91 years old, His Holiness said,
“Yesterday at Tumkur there was a venerable Swami who was 106 and here you are at 91. Meeting capable older people like you over the last few days has given me the inspiration that I too can live long.”
From Mumbai His Holiness is travelling to the Tibetan settlement at Mundgod in Karnataka, where he will give an unprecedented series of teachings on texts of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam Rim).